Mobile Apps Need A Refresh

Many have been sounding the death knell of the app for quite some time.

Google and Apple, they say, are both in a race to see who can kill the app first by turning app functions into features of their everyday operating systems, as this Wired post notes.

Others say that Web apps, which can function both online and off, will drive regular apps to extinction — and that anyway, Google prefers Web apps to sell its advertising, which is another nail in the coffin, according to a post on Technology Review.

But there’s another factor that has been overlooked and may hasten the app's demise: any upgrade, whether just one feature or a whole overhaul, takes months, if not years to implement. That means that the minute an app goes live, it is already out of date.   

That’s why apps are both an enormous boon and an enormous pain for their owners. Mobile apps have not only transformed how we interact with the world, but they also have had a profound effect on how companies do business, since they are becoming the primary tool for engaging with customers. But it simply takes too long to make changes or add anything to them.

Marketers have amazing ideas about ways in which their app can better engage customers, but only 10% of these ideas ever make it into the app at all. In other words, long development and update cycles have put a straightjacket on app creativity, preventing businesses from deriving the full potential value of their mobile applications. App owners need to rapidly roll out new features, iterate and experiment, something you can only do on a website — but not with an app.

The CMO of a large retail bank recently told me: "We just rolled out a new version of our banking app, featuring great ideas we had last year. By now, some are obsolete, some are just not that great, and others are no longer in line with the bank’s current marketing strategy."

This is known as the “creative lag”: the time it takes an idea to get from the whiteboard to a consumer’s device. It’s the most significant problem facing companies that want to leverage the mobile channel — meaning every company on earth. This, in short, is the app world today: a Lamborghini with a lock on its hood.

Ten years ago I founded Worklight, a mobile application platform, later acquired by IBM and rebranded as MobileFirst. Our platform was used primarily by large corporations. The architecture we created was linear: business defines, development builds, business evaluates and redefines, and so forth.

At Worklight, I helped shape the technical foundations of this great industry, and, by creating excessive rigidity, am probably part of the problem, overlooking the needs of marketing and product professionals aiming at increasing engagement, conversion and retention.

A new architecture needs to be developed to unleash the potential creativity inherent in each and every app across each and every industry. Of course, it should preserve the superior user experience of native apps and the validation process that Apple and Google apply in their respective app stores. It should also support the very different roles of two groups: marketers and product managers, who yearn for the ability to rapidly experiment with and roll out new features in their apps, and developers, who must still be able to build the unique core functions that they do today.

In other words, the creative lag must be turned into a creative leap, where an app owner can add features in minutes to improve user experience or counter low conversion rates.

If mobile app architectures do evolve in such a way as to allow app owners more control over their mobile assets, then, to paraphrase Mark Twain, any rumors of the app’s death will have been highly exaggerated. 

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